A look at AFC contenders, pretenders

John
John Turner
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Just like the NFC, which The Freak covered last week, the AFC has its share of pretenders and contenders for this year’s Super Bowl.

Here we go:

Pretenders

Bengals are just too young and inexperienced to make a run. Rookies Andy Dalton and AJ Green, along with youngsters Jerome Simpson and Jermaine Gresham, give Cincy a great young nucleus to build around. The Bengals’ defence played well the first half of the year, but losing premier corner Leon Hall has really hurt.

Jets have been to the last two AFC Championship games, and The Freak can guarantee you they won’t be going this season. Quarterback Mark Sanchez was supposedly the best quarterback in New York City, but has regressed to the point where fans are booing him in pre-game introductions. New York’s offence lacks any type of deep threat to stretch the field, and to keep defences on their toes. Coach Ryan has wisely made no predictions this year as his defence cannot rush the passer. They won’t go deep into the playoffs, even if they get in.

Broncos and Tim Tebow have created quite a stir over the past two months. If you look inside the numbers, yes Tebow has played well. But really it has been the D that has won many of these games. Teams have won in the past running the rock and playing great defence. If you look at some of the AFC contenders, with the exception of the Patriots, they can play defence as well. Denver is too one dimensional. Tebow has been a great fresh story for the NFL, and has given the Denver fans something to cheer about for the first time since John Elway retired. The only difference between the two? Elway won Super Bowls and Tebow probably won’t.

Titans are making a late charge, and running back Chris Johnson looks to be back. However, if you look at the teams they’ve beaten, the win over the Ravens is the only quality win. So looking strictly at this, they aren’t a Super Bowl-calibre team.

Raiders are so inconsistent from one week to the next it would be impossible to see them string three real solid post-season games together. If running back Darren McFadden comes back healthy soon, he will help. But their receivers are average, at best, and scare nobody.

Contenders

Patriots have Tom Brady, and as long as they have him they are in contention.

The defence has slowly improved, but is still their Achilles’ heel, leaving it up to Brady to put up a 35 spot to give them a chance. They are hoping to get home-field advantage, but the last two years they have lost at home in the playoffs. They are not invincible in Foxboro.

Ravens can get to the big game if their defence plays like it did versus the 49ers, and if quarterback Joe Flacco can be more consistent. The big key for Baltimore is winning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as they’re a different monster at home compared to the road.

Steelers may be getting old, but they still have enough horses to get them there. Big Ben is as good a big-game quarterback as there is in the NFL, but will need that old defence to hold up one more time in the post-season. The only mistake you can make is writing off the Steelers because of their age.

Texans have lost quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, and have third-string TJ Yates running the offence. If this were any other team you could stick a fork in them. But with two running backs in Arian Foster and Ben Tate, who will both rush for over 1,000 yards, they can grind it out on the ground. Furthermore, they have a top-three defence that will have them every game and, with a bounce or two, that could get them to Super Bowl

Stat of the week

Rookie quarterback Cam Newton set an NFL record by running for three

touchdowns against the Bucs. He now has 13 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.

Pet peeve of the week

Don’t like calling out the zebras, but there were two sketchy touchdown calls in the Giants-Packers’ game. Not to be bias, but to The Freak, wide receiver Greg Jennings didn’t have control of the ball on his touchdown, and it looked like tight end Jake Ballard got his knee in on his catch in the end zone.

Even Mike Pereira, who is never wrong, agreed. What a difference these two calls would have made in the outcome.

Coach Parcells quote of the week

“The most difficult thing in coaching is to scrutinize the performance the same way, whether you win or lose. When you lose, the problem looks like an H-bomb. That’s why your players say the coach is never happy. But a lot of times when you lose, you see more good things than when you win.”

The sure thing

The Colts have looked better with quarterback Dan Orlovsky calling the plays, but face a tough home team in the Ravens. Indy is trying to win their first game while Baltimore is looking for their 10th. Ravens win.

Luckily, KC scored on a Hail Mary pass against the Bears to win on the road. It won’t happen again this week versus the Jets. Gang Green wins to improve their playoff chances.

Some things are guaranteed in December – Santa will come on the night of the

24th, and the Packers win at Lambeau. The Raiders are making the trip this

time, and won’t be able to score over 40 points to beat Green Bay. Cheeseheads go to 12-0.

Don’t mortgage the house picks

The Freak bumped into big Dallas fan Kenny J. during the week, and he has as much confidence in the Cowboys as The Freak has in the Giants. Who will show up Sunday – the good teams or those bad-looking teams? Both teams hate each other, and it’s a more important game for the Gmen than the ‘Boys. At the end of the day, you have to think Demarcus Ware will make a momentum-changing play that will lead to a Dallas win.

Phillip Rivers can be called Mr. December with his almost-perfect record

over his career. The Chargers are home to Bills, who have been decimated by

injuries and it has shown over the last month. The Bolts win and keep their

playoff hopes alive in the weak AFC West.

The Bears need a win in a desperate way in Denver. Tebow is 6-1 (won-lost) as a starter, but is facing a very good defence this time out. This will be a low-scoring game with Caleb Hanie still quarterbacking Chicago. Tebow will know two Bears named Peppers and Urlacher very quickly. Bears win.

Upset Special

The 49ers clinched a playoff spot last week, and this usually means for a letdown, especially on the road.

Arizona did the Giants a big favour beating the Cowboys, and will make it two upsets in a row with a big physical win over San Fran.

Last week: 7-for-7 (100 per cent not many of these).

Season: 65-for-93 (69.8 per cent).

John Turner is a Summerside schoolteacher. His column appears every Saturday

during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to the

footballfreak84@yahoo.ca.

Organizations: NFL, Ravens, Steelers Jets

Geographic location: New York City, Denver, Baltimore Big Ben Dallas Green Bay Chicago Arizona Summerside

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